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Published August 1st 2018

Music Festivals: Battle of the Brands

Music festivals are more mainstream and branded than ever — are consumers on board?

Festival culture in the US really kicked off in 1969 with Woodstock — “three days of peace and music” that featured some of the biggest acts at the time using music to protest the Vietnam War and more. Fast forward 50 years and festivals are an even bigger part of American culture, but they’ve changed.

Today’s large music festivals like Coachella are a far cry from the anti-establishment ethos of Woodstock. Awash in brands, large music festivals like Coachella cater to digitally connected millennials who want more out of their festival experience than music. They are there for the fashion, the photos, and the overall large music festival experience.

Brands, of course, play a major role in large music festivals. From the clothes festival-goers wear and the food they consume, to the brand-sponsored lounges they socialize in and the photobooths they snap photos in, Coachella isn’t Coachella if those components are missing.

But as festivals are evolving, are consumer expectations changing too? Do consumers have positive attitudes toward the brands associated with festivals?

We analyzed the online consumer conversation about festivals to better understand the preferred brands among festival-goers and their favorite types of brand activations.

Festivals on the rise

There is clearly a great opportunity for brands to participate in music festivals. The online conversation has grown significantly in the last seven years. In 2010, the conversation amassed 1.5 million posts, which seems like a lot, but it pales in comparison to the 21.4 million posts generated in 2017 about music festivals. The growth in the online conversation corresponds with the growth in attendance numbers.

But which specific festivals generate the most social buzz?

There is now a myriad of large music festivals. Coachella is the most discussed by far, with a total of 41.8 million posts from 2010 to 2017. The second most discussed music festival, Lollapalooza, had just ¼ the discussion volume for Coachella.

Bonnaroo, the third most discussed music festival, has less than ½ the discussion volume for Lollapalooza. It is safe to say that Coachella is a leader in the large music festival world. It is also the music festival that brands clamour to participate in.

Battle of the brands

Coachella presents so many profitable opportunities for brands. Fashion and beauty brands have launched Coachella lookbooks. Free People and H&M, for example, have both curated a collection of Coachella-ready clothes. Food brands have swarmed Coachella too, a combination of chain and independent restaurants. We analyzed the top brands at music festivals in three categories: fashion, technology, and food/drink.

The top four fashion brands all cater to young women, to no one’s surprise. They are: Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Topshop, and Free People. Forever 21 embraces all the trends, with no defined aesthetic (unlike, for example, normcore Uniqlo or preppy Madewell). So trying out festival styles is seamless for the fast fashion brand that has an entire section called “festival shop” on their website.

Urban Outfitters, a brand popular with high school and college students, sells retro-chic record players and polaroid cameras alongside their clothes. Plenty of clothes are festival ready. Popular U.K. brand Topshop sells trendy clothes that can easily be customized to one’s style. Free People is similar to Urban Outfitters, but it emphasizes the bohemian, hippie look more.

For technology, Spotify is the most popular brand, perhaps unsurprising given that it’s a music streaming company. Offering personal lineup playlists at Coachella is just one of the things Spotify does at music festivals.

Spotify also launched a #WeWereThere campaign, where attendees with a Spotify RFID band generates customized playlists based on an attendee’s festival experience, who they watched, what they listened to.

Google showcased Google Home technology. Amazon showcased the Echo Look to offer fashion advice. Lastly, HP’s high-tech lounge enabled festival-goers to create digital art.

With long hours waiting in line, meandering through crowds, and dancing, festival-goers can get hungry and parched easily. McDonald’s reigns supreme, accounting for more than half of the total conversation. The brand known for golden arches and french fries hosted a pool party at Coachella this year.

Beer brand Heineken had what they called “Heineken House” at Coachella, bringing in performers like Busta Rhymes. At Lollapalooza last year, Chipotle displayed giant block letters that spelled #LifeIsBurritoful. Ice cream brand Coolhaus made its Coachella debut in 2009 and has been a mainstay ever since.

Of the three categories of brands, fashion is the most discussed.We looked at the top fashion brands in the festival conversation, and analyzed their share of voice throughout the years.

Forever 21 started becoming popular in 2013, peaking in 2015. Certain brands have their year of festival wear fame. For H&M, it was 2010. For ASOS, it was 2011. For Free People, it was 2012. For Topshop, it was 2015. The brand that used to be insignificant in the festival wear conversation that has grown greatly in share of voice is Dolls Kill.

Meet me at McDonald’s

Once the preparations for the festival are over, it’s time for the festival itself. When it comes to brand activities during the festival, food/drink makes up 87 percent share of voice. Music festivals bring in a mix of large chains like McDonald’s and Chipotle and also smaller, local restaurants.

Corporate-branded lounges are the second most popular activity, a way for festival goers to relax in between sets. Of course, brands always have something to sell or showcase. Artist merchandise encompasses 2 percent share of voice, more popular than festival merchandise. Photobooths are also a way brands like to engage consumers at music festivals who just cannot wait to share photos of their experience.


Clearly, large music festivals are about the brands involved almost as much as they are about the music. For consumers, they can connect with new brands they’ve just discovered or their favorite brands.

From fashion and beauty, to technology, to food and drink, and even more, there are many ways for brands to participate in music festivals and engage with consumers.

Analyzing the online conversation shows that some brands resonate with consumers more than others and consumer preferences change every year. Some brand activations bring consumers enjoyment and entertainment, while others fall flat. Brands can keep up-to-date with consumers by looking at the online conversation to understand what they enjoyed and what they would like to be improved.

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